Standard-Examiner News Story: Utah groups broaden efforts to provide COVID-19 testing to homeless and the poor

May 05, 2020

OGDEN  Along with increasing the community’s COVID-19 testing capacity, local advocates say it’s equally important to get the word out about it, especially to underserved populations.

Those groups include the homeless, people with low incomes, and the Hispanic community.

The Midtown Community Health Center, 2240 Adams Ave., is at the forefront of the effort.

Midtown also operates the Hope Clinic inside the Lantern House homeless shelter, 269 W. 33rd St.

Since mid-March, clinic staff members have been screening for symptoms nightly in 200 or more people checking in to the shelter, said Alicia Martinez, Midtown’s executive director.

She said 320 people have been pre-screened for COVID-19 testing, so far yielding no positive cases at Lantern House, she said.

At Midtown’s location on Adams, meanwhile, the clinic has begun drive-thru COVID-19 testing. The drive-thru is open 1-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Martinez recommends those seeking testing first call 833-524-0454.

Eleven people have tested positive for the virus so far at Midtown. All of the patients have recovered, she said.

The homeless, low-income people, and Hispanic community members overall are more at risk during the pandemic, according to health officials.

Homeless people are mobile and have little if any, access to protective measures and information. Low-income people have similar disadvantages, including often limited access to technology, and language barriers further hamper Hispanics.

“We can definitely use the help in spreading the word,” Martinez said. “If you have symptoms, come get tested.”

Midtown doesn’t turn people away for lack of ability to pay — financial capacity being another barrier to the underserved seeking health care.

Evolving official responses to the pandemic as it has progressed also may have complicated efforts to test the underserved, Martinez said.

“My perception is that there is a lag in how information makes it out,” she said. “Initially, all those guidelines were very strict: stay home, take care at home. That shifted and it’s now tested as many people as possible.”

Utah Health Department data shows the state’s Hispanic population has been especially hard hit. Hispanics makeup about 14% of the population but account for 36% of COVID-19 cases.

And the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs recently issued a study indicating that the pandemic has deepened existing problems for minorities such as access to health care; food, housing, and employment security; and vulnerability to misinformation.

Speaking of increasing testing capacity, Intermountain Healthcare is fielding a mobile lab to respond to high-volume homeless testing needs.

A recent COVID-19 surge at a Salt Lake County homeless shelter was such a case.

Terry Foust, Intermountain’s community health director, said six people who had been at the affected Salt Lake shelter later showed up in Ogden, but no infections resulted in Lantern House.

He said Intermountain stays in contact with Midtown and Lantern House and will send the mobile lab to Ogden as needed.

“We are optimistic and want to be helpful,” Foust said. “We hope we won’t need it.”

The Daily Herald article by Mark Shenflet can be found here:

The Standard-Examiner article by Mark Shenflet can be found here:

Photos are courtesy of The Standard-Examiner.